District 3 representative Kshama Sawant repeatedly attacked her Seattle City Council member challenger Egan Orion on housing and homelessness in an online debate, accusing him of using the same tactics as people who are “peddling Republican talking points.”
“He believes that the solution to the housing affordability crisis is to build more market housing,” Sawant said at an online forum on Facebook Tuesday night. The Broadway Business Improvement Area administrator quickly responded that this isn’t what he believes.
The local rent control champion also claimed that he used questionable numbers on rent increases in the city to back up his argument, arguing that he was trying to “minimize the deep affordability crisis we are facing by quoting spurious statistics like rents only went up by 1% last year.”
Apartmentlist.com found renters in the city of Seattle who stayed put are paying 1.4% more now than in October of last year. “Seattle’s year-over-year rent growth lags the state average of 1.7%, but is in line with the national average of 1.4%,” according to the service.
The extensive online forum was hosted by Real Change News, Washington Community Action Network (CAN), Hand in Hand, and Casa Latina. The recording of the event, which includes Spanish translations on the fly, can be watched in full on Washington CAN’s Facebook page.
In a CHS survey of candidates during the primary, Sawant focused her response on homelessness to housing affordability and social housing, rent control, the expansion of tiny home villages, and the end of sweeps of encampments. Orion, meanwhile, said he would look at how other cities are finding solutions. “Atlanta’s housing program called ‘Open Doors’ is based on a model first piloted here in Seattle in which those who need
housing are placed in market-rate housing at no cost to them, which only proves there is housing available if we are willing to pay the price to house those who are currently unsheltered,” he wrote, adding that he also would follow New York City’s lead to enshrine the right to shelter in the city charter.
This week’s session marked one of the more forceful blasts of criticism that Sawant has levied on her opponent as the race enters its final stretch and Orion remains a contender with big money supporting him and a strategy of putting Sawant’s Socialist Alternative politics at the forefront of his attacks.
Orion was also pushed by the moderator to clear up his stance on homeless encampment sweeps after saying “the no notice sweeps” aren’t working and “don’t solve the problem.” He was then asked to clarify if he was categorically against sweeps or the lack of notice.
“My position is that no one should be sleeping on the streets; that we should be providing housing for everyone who needs it and that if we are moving people without giving them shelter or housing, that that is inhumane, unless it’s for a public health or public safety concern,” he said. “It’s retraumatizing people that have already been traumatized and it’s costing us like $10 million a year that could be used on housing.”
Sawant agreed with her opponent that this money should go toward other programs.
Another questioner, housing activist Gina Owens, said she heard a “flip flop double standard from [Orion] just tonight” after he told the Stranger in April that he wants to work with local software companies to build “for lack of a better term—a tracking system” and then seeming to walk this back when asked about privacy concerns on Tuesday.
“The whole point of the work that the city does is to lift people and give them an opportunity and give them housing, and so if the work that we’re doing to track data is stopping them from seeking that, then stop right there” Orion said.
There is a database from the federal government to collect data on homelessness services.
Sawant also claimed that the former head of the now-shuttered Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce panders to audiences.
“We have many candidates this year, including my opponent, who will say things that voters want to hear, which is that we need to expand permanent supportive housing, we need to expand services for homeless community members, which of course we all agree with,” said Sawant, who has served on the council since 2014. “But the question that remains unanswered is how will you actually fund those services and affordable housing.”
Owens pushed Orion later on how he would fund more housing, to which he responded with his hopes for a progressive business-and-occupation tax, a higher earners income tax depending on the state Supreme Court, and a tax on foreign investors that speculate on local properties. Orion also supports a vacancy tax on empty apartments.
Orion said during the forum that he wants to bond with the county to get 1,500 units of permanent supportive housing at the beginning of next year.
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